It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with the world. We all do this, although only a few are paid well to impose their opinions on others.
It is far more difficult to see and identify beauty, truth, goodness, joy, peace, and love, and even more challenging to impart these elements in two dimensional form on canvas. But for oil painter Steve Henderson of Dayton, this is what he does every day.
“I paint in what is called the ‘representational’ style — the world around us that we all see,” Henderson says. “But oftentimes it takes an artist to help us ‘really see’ it. And while items I paint are easily identifiable — that’s a tree; that’s Santa Claus; that’s the Grand Canyon — each one of these subjects is interpreted by the artist to convey its deeper levels behind the lighting, the shadows, the turn of a face, the brush strokes that make up the form.
“The canvas becomes a stage upon which the artist presents the character actors — color, texture, form, design, value. On that stage, I choose to invite beauty, reminiscence, nostalgia, feelings of serenity, peace, tranquility — those emotions.”
A Tale of Beauty
Henderson’s scope of subject matter reads a bit like the opening lines to Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: He paints the Pacific Northwest forests; he paints the Southwest canyons. He paints the ocean; he paints the desert. He paints very young children; he paints adult women. What he does not paint is ugliness, despair, angst, fear or hatred: not because those elements don’t exist, but because they do, in too much quantity. It is far too easy, Henderson believes, to spark an emotional response by negativism, and it becomes a cheap, easy way to achieve a reaction.
Although Henderson has always wanted to be an artist — drawing his first three-masted sailboat at the age of five and attracting teachers’ attention throughout his schooldays because of his rendering skill — he almost quit, simply because what he was taught in his university art studies was so opposite to what he believes is commonsense, truth, beauty, and common good.
“At the end of four years, I was more confused than ever,” he recalls. “One moment, the professors instructed us not to listen to a thing they said, but to simply follow our muse; another moment they insisted that we essentially copy the latest post-modernist fads emanating from New York City. I found myself painting gritty purple abstract cityscapes, which my professors assured me was expressing what was deep inside me.”
Seeking Beauty, Truth, and Skill
For awhile, Henderson walked away from fine art into the illustration and graphic design industry that his professors declared would destroy him as an artist. Instead, his time in the publishing field further honed his skills as Henderson worked in a wide variety of media, creating everything from cartoon drawings to medical illustrations.
Time, life, and raising a family instilled in Henderson the confidence he needed to eschew the teachings of his fallible professors, and he resumed studying art his own way: one by one, he amassed a library of artists through the ages, and spent uncounted hours poring over their work, analyzing thousands of paintings and the varying techniques and styles of their painters. In the studio, he practiced. He knew what he wanted to achieve — skill, mastery, and the ability to convey beauty and truth — and he also knew that simply relying upon “the Muse,” or the “soul of an artist” was insufficient to do so.
“We all acknowledge that the piano player requires years of intense practice — his performance is proof of his obvious skill, or lack of it,” Henderson says.
“But in visual arts — both two and three dimensional — we glibly refer to anything as ‘art,’ and anyone as an ‘artist.’ I believe an artist should learn, train, and study as seriously as any orchestral musician.”
The World Needs Art, and Beauty
This learning, he adds, never ends, and there is no pinnacle ledge at which the artist arrives, shouts out Hallelujah, and quits learning, seeing, and experimenting. An artist’s education continues for as long as the artist is breathing, and the beauty that the artist (skillfully) paints gives life and hope to the world in which the artist lives.
“The world needs art.
“It sounds trite, but I believe it deeply.
“It has always been so, but especially today with our corporate, cubicle world and its emphasis on cold scientific facts, we need something more than ever before that speaks of beauty and something deeper that those cold facts.
“We need something that speaks to the soul, the heart, the inner working of our being.”
Steve Henderson is the Pacific Northwest Art Event artist from Monday, November 19 through Saturday, December 15, 2018. He will be at the gallery in person during the Christmas Kickoff Holiday Art Show Friday, November 23, from 2 to 6 p.m., joined by Joseph, OR folk art gourd sculptor Sheryl Parsons. Also at the show will be holiday music, artisan treats, a drawing for 3 holiday gift baskets, and up to 25% off purchases of $250 or more made on November 23 and/or 24.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.